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Full text of "My country and my people"

THE    ART    OF    LIVING                        307
In China, man knows a great deal about the art of all arts, viz., the art of living. A younger civilization may be keen on making progress, but an old civilization, having seen naturally a great deal of life, is keen only on living. In the case of China, with the spirit of humanism, which makes man the centre of all things and human happiness the end of all knowledge, this emphasis on the art of living is all the more natural. But even without humanism, an old civilization must have a different standard of values, for it alone knows "the durable pleasures of life," which are merely matters of the senses, food, drink, house, garden, women, and friendship. That is what life comes to in its essence. That is why in old cities like Paris and Vienna we have good chefs, good wine, beautiful women and beautiful music. After a certain point human intelligence struck a blind alley, and, tired of asking questions, took again the vine for its spouse in the Khayyam manner. Any nation, therefore, that does not know how to eat and enjoy living like the Chinese is uncouth and uncivilized in our eyes.
In the works of Li Liweng (seventeenth century), there is an important section devoted to the pleasures of life, which is a vade-mecum of the Chinese art of living, from the house and garden, interior decorations, partitions, to women's toilet, coiffures, the art of applying powder and rouge, on to the art of cooking and directions for the gourmet, and finally to the ways of securing pleasure for the rich man and the poor man, and in all the four seasons, the methods of banning worry, regulating sex-life, preventing and curing illness, ending in the unique division of medicine into the very sensible three categories: "medicine that one likes by temperament," "medicine that is needed by the moment," and "medicine that one loves and longs for." This chapter alone contains more wisdom regarding medical advice than a whole college course of medicine. This epicure dramatist, for he was a great comic poet, spoke of what he knew. Some instances of his thorough understanding of the art oi living are given here, as showing the essential Chinese spirit.
Thus Li Liweng wrote about "Willows" in his intensely human study of different flowers and trees and the art of enjoying them: